BEN-HUR A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace Harper & Brothers New York, US, 1880 Ben-Hur : A Tale of the Christ is a novel by Lew Wallace, published by Harper and Brothers on November 12, 1880, and considered "the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century". It became a best-selling American novel, surpassing Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) in sales. The book also inspired other novels with biblical settings and was adapted for the stage and motion picture productions. Ben-Hur remained at the top of the US all-time bestseller list until the 1936 publication of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. The 1959 MGM film adaptation of Ben-Hur is considered one of the greatest films ever made and was seen by tens of millions, going on to win a record 11 Academy Awards in 1960, after which the book's sales increased and it surpassed Gone with the Wind. It was blessed by Pope Leo XIII, the first novel ever to receive such an honour. The success of the novel and its stage and film adaptations also helped it to become a popular cultural icon that was used to promote numerous commercial products. The story recounts the adventures of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince from Jerusalem, who is enslaved by the Romans at the beginning of the first century and becomes a charioteer and a Christian. Running in parallel with Judah's narrative is the unfolding story of Jesus, from the same region and around the same age. The novel reflects themes of betrayal, conviction, and redemption, with a revenge plot that leads to a story of love and compassion. Ben-Hur is a story of a fictional hero named Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish nobleman who was falsely accused and convicted of an attempted assassination of the Roman governor of Judaea and consequently enslaved by the Romans. He becomes a successful charioteer. The story's revenge plot becomes a story of compassion and forgiveness. The novel is divided into eight books, or parts, each with its own subchapters. Book one opens with the story of the three magi, who arrive in Bethlehem to hear the news of Christ's birth. Readers meet the fictional character of Judah for the first time in book two, when his childhood friend Messala, also a fictional character, returns to Jerusalem as an ambitious commanding officer of the Roman legions. The teen-aged boys come to realize that they have changed and hold very different views and aspirations. When a loose tile is accidentally dislodged from the roof of Judah's house during a military parade and strikes the Roman governor, knocking him from his horse, Messala falsely accuses Judah of attempted assassination. Although Judah is not guilty and receives no trial, he is sent to the Roman galleys for life, his mother and sister are imprisoned in a Roman jail where they contract leprosy, and all the family property is confiscated. Judah first encounters Jesus, who offers him a drink of water and encouragement, as Judah is being marched to a galley to be a slave. Their lives continue to intersect as the story unfolds. In book three, Judah survives his ordeal as a galley slave through good fortune, which includes befriending and saving the commander of his ship, who later adopts him. Judah goes on to become a trained soldier and charioteer. In books four and five, Judah returns home to Jerusalem to seek revenge and redemption for his family. After witnessing the Crucifixion, Judah recognizes that Christ's life stands for a goal quite different from revenge. Judah becomes Christian, inspired by love and the talk of keys to a kingdom greater than any on Earth. The novel concludes with Judah's decision to finance the Catacomb of San Calixto in Rome, where Christian martyrs are to be buried and venerated.